Panama Seizes, Burns 11 Tons of Cocaine As Drug Busts Set New Records
By Dialogo July 09, 2013
Panamanian anti-narcotics officials recently celebrated their most successful month of the year with a bonfire of sorts. On June 21, more than 11.4 tons of confiscated narcotics — mainly cocaine — went up in smoke at Cerro Patacón, a landfill just outside Panama City.
This was the largest quantity of drugs burned so far in 2013, the government noted in a press release. Destroyed in the bonfire were 11 tons of cocaine as well as five kilograms of heroin and a few hundred kilos of marijuana.
This year, Panamanian authorities have incinerated 24 tons of drugs, with almost half of that in the last month.
For Panama’s security forces, the highlight for June was a major bust along the border with Colombia. With drug seizures up and murders rates down, Public Security Minister José Raúl Mulino said his country of 3.5 million is on the right track — and that cocaine routes in Central America are being diverted from the isthmus.
Mulino also said his forces are hurting growers too. On June 18, police destroyed almost 5,000 coca plants in the thick jungles of the Darien Gap near Colombia.
“Just returned from the border with Colombia,” Mulino wrote on his Twitter account. “Great binational day against narcos. A hectare of coca plants and a laboratory destroyed by National Border Service.” Nobody was arrested in the operation, but a source told news agency AFP that the lab had the ability to turn coca into cocaine.
Carlos Alvarado, director of the state-run Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas in neighboring Costa Rica, said the busts in Panama didn’t surprise him. Colombian drug cartels, including members of the FARC guerrilla movement, often work in cocaine productions along the Darien Gap, he told the Spanish newspaper El País.
“It is very unfortunate that the traffickers have already crossed the border from Colombia to Panama,” Alvarado said, calling Panama “very lucky” for detecting the farm.
The big month of busts actually started at the end of May, when a joint effort between U.S. officials and the Panamanian Navy seized 2.7 tons of cocaine from speedboats in nearby waters. Police stated the several thousand pounds of cocaine was worth $500 million.
One boat was sunk and three suspects were arrested. The five suspects who carried most of the cocaine escaped into the jungle at the Colombian border. However, the seizure marked the biggest bust of the year.
“These two disruptions are an example of the international cooperative law enforcement effort to disrupt transnational criminal activity and deny their profiting from such activity,” the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a news release.
Almost all the cocaine is destined for the United States. Central American leaders continue to debate strategies for effectively dealing with that flow of cocaine. Mulino praised joint operations with Colombia and the United States, through Operation Martillo, for Panama’s successful busts during the first half of 2013.
In fact, Panama is now on pace to disrupt more drug operations than in the past three years. In 2012, Panamanian police confiscated 35 tons of drugs, down from 39 tons the year before. In 2009 and 2010, the country netted 54 tons of narcotics, and the country seems likely to arrive at similar numbers this year.
“All of the narco-guerrilla traffic that we stop between Colombia and Panama benefits all of the region,” Mulino said.
I think that the work performed by Panama to fight drug trafficking is carried out in very unequal conditions. Panama needs more logistic resources and better technical training. Also, it's necessary to increase the manpower, it's not enough to only supervise the borders, we need to cover the entire country. Today we have a mob of drug dealers with an active presence in the least expected places. They are very active in sports club, cock fights, folk dancing and discotheques.